Helping Seniors Drive Safer, Longer

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| Source: AAA
Photo courtesy of AAA
Photo courtesy of AAA
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MISSION, KS--(Marketwire - May 17, 2012) - (Family Features) Since January 2011, nearly 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, joining the fastest growing age group in the nation. According to a recent American Automobile Association (AAA) survey of that booming population, nearly half of seniors worry about losing their freedom and mobility when the time comes for them to transition from driver to passenger.

From understanding how vision changes can affect one's ability to drive at night, to researching the effects certain medications can have on one's driving ability, it's important to get the facts about driving for seniors. Use these tips from AAA to help ensure you and your family members are driving safely:

Evaluate your driving.
While most seniors are experienced drivers, it's important to take time to consider one's driving "health" and habits. For instance, how frequently do you wear a seatbelt? Do you use your signal and check for nearby traffic before changing lanes? Does traffic cause you to feel anxious? When was the last time you had an eye exam? You can take a Driver 65 Plus self-assessment at www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com to get a clear picture of just how good your driving skills really are, and you'll also get suggestions for improving your driving.

Be aware of how aging affects driving habits.
From hearing and vision loss, to mental fitness and reaction time, seniors may not notice the gradual differences that can impact their driving ability. For instance, by age 60, your eyes need three times the amount of light to see properly as they do for people 20 years old, which means it's more difficult to see at night. Likewise, one-third of Americans suffer from hearing loss by age 65. This can pose a problem, as senior drivers may be unable to hear high-pitched noises such as emergency response vehicles while on the road.

Reaction times can be slower for seniors as well. But preventative measures can go a long way.
-- When following other vehicles, seniors should increase the distance between their car and the car in front of them, to allow more time to react to sudden braking.
-- Eliminating distractions in the vehicle and avoiding heavy traffic can also help seniors identify emergency sirens, and avoiding driving at night is another safer option for seniors.

Find the right fit.
With the wide array of vehicles offering all sorts of convenience features, seniors may not realize that their car may not be optimally adjusted to fit them. For example, sitting too close to the steering wheel can interfere with steering and cause fatigue, as well as injury, should the airbag deploy during a collision.
-- Make sure you have at least 10 to 12 inches between your chest and the steering wheel.
-- When seated properly, you should be able to see the ground in front of your car within 12 to 15 feet and 1 1/2 car widths left and right.
-- Visit www.car-fit.org to assess the safety of your vehicle, find the proper seat and mirror adjustments and more.

Take a refresher course.
No matter how many years a driver has been on the road, a refresher course can help reinforce the basics such as identifying road signs, as well as provide information on updated driving rules and new vehicle technologies.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist.
Ensure that the medications you take -- both prescription and over-the-counter -- will not impair your ability to drive safely. In addition, make sure all your medications go through one pharmacy, so the pharmacists on staff can better assess any potential drug interactions.

To help older drivers and their families deal with driving and mobility challenges related to aging, AAA has launched a new website (www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com) to make a comprehensive suite of tools and resources available at the click of a button. From an Ask-the-Expert feature to Roadwise Review -- an online screening tool that measures functional abilities (like vision and reaction time) linked to crash risk -- and more, all of the features are free to site visitors. The site also offers links and resources to help families find other means of transportation when their loved one is no longer able to drive safely.

Top 5 driving tips for seniors
1. Prepare for a drive by adjusting your mirrors and seat to ensure you can see properly. Always wear a seatbelt.
2. Eliminate distractions, such as the car radio, which can interfere with your ability to hear emergency response vehicle sirens and other important sounds.
3. Avoid driving in bad weather, heavy traffic or at night.
4. Making left-hand turns can be difficult for people with limited vision. Avoid left-hand turns at intersections with signals by making three right hand turns around the block when possible.
5. Manage slower reaction times by increasing the amount of space between your vehicle and the car in front of you, allowing for more time to react to sudden braking.

Tips for family members
If you're concerned about the safety of a senior family member, look to resources such as their doctor or your local DMV, that can help identify their capacity to drive, and find transportation resources to help them manage daily needs:
-- If your family member has received two traffic citations, warnings or been involved in two collisions or "near misses" within a two year period, it may be time to look for other forms of transportation.
-- Make sure your family member speaks with their doctor and pharmacist about prescription and over-the-counter medications that may impair their ability to drive safely.
-- Talk with family members, friends and neighbors about organizing a car pool to help seniors who need rides find transportation. Look to local public and supplemental transportation options as well.
Read more about assessing your family member's ability to drive, as well as where to find alternative transportation, at www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

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